A Fearful Avoidant Ex Vs. A Dismissive Avoidant Ex

Getting your ex’s attachment style right plays a very important role in getting them back. But when you are new to attachment styles, it can be had to tell the difference between a fearful avoidant and a dismissive avoidant ex. This seemingly “small mistake” can however significantly affect your chances of getting back an avoidant.

Different attachment styles have fundamental differences in how they perceive their experiences, view themselves, views others, and think, feel and act and how to get them back. In this article I discuss one very clear difference between a fearful avoidant and a dismissive avoidant and why knowing this major difference can help you better understand your ex and successfully attract them back.

Organized Vs. Disorganized avoidant attachment strategies

Fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants both have an avoidant attachment style and share very many similar characteristics including highly independent, fear of getting too close, difficulty with sharing or expressing emotions, vulnerability and intimacy, tendency to withdraw or deactivate from relationship partners etc. But there are also significant differences between fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants the major one being that fearful avoidants are anxious-avoidants (high avoidance, high anxiety) and dismissive avoidants are straight-up avoidant (high avoidance, low anxiety).

The other major difference between fearful avoidants and dismissive avoidants, dismissive avoidants use organized avoidance strategies while fearful avoidants use disorganized avoidance strategies.

When our behaviours are coordinated in a smooth way both in the way we go about getting our attachment needs met and how we deal with attachment-related threats, it is considered an “organized” attachment because our behaviours are stable and consistent over time. When behaviours are uncoordinated, complex, fluctuate or are awkward. it is considered a “disorganized” attachment.

A dismissive avoidant attachment is an organized attachment style – The behaviours of individuals with this attachment style are organized around indifference, lack of unconcern, trivializing and even contemptuous attitude towards attachment relationships. They’re highly independent and have an intense discomfort with others getting too close, difficulty trusting others completely, difficult allowing themselves to depend on others, preference for emotional distance and self-reliance, and the use of distancing defensive strategies to cope with threats and stressors.

Fearful avoidant attachment is a disorganized attachment style – Individuals with this attachment style suffer from a breakdown of organized attachment strategies and therefore inconsistent and hard to predict. And because they don’t have an organized strategy for getting their attachment needs met, they come across as inconsistent, conflicted and unpredictable in the beginning, middle, end of the relationship, throughout the relationship and even after the break-up.

They approach others and take comfort in being close to someone but push away or run away from them creating an approach-withdraw or pull-push dynamic. However, Karlen Lyons-Ruth and colleagues (2013) observed that “52% of disorganized infants continue to approach the caregiver, seek comfort, and cease their distress without clear anxious or avoidant behaviour”. I don’t know if this applies to adult fearful avoidants as well, but I thought it was an interesting addition to the fearful avoidant attachment puzzle. It may even explain why some people think they have an anxious attachment style because they approach attachment figures, seek comfort, and when reassured cease their distress without pulling away. But while they appear to be anxiously attached, they don’t do the whole “preoccupied” (over texting, needy and clingy) thing.

How to tell if your ex is a dismissive avoidant (organized avoidant attachment)

A dismissive avoidant’s easily identifiable traits are high avoidance and low anxiety, and a positive view of self and a negative view of others (I’m OK, You’re Not OK).

What this looks like is that dismissive avoidants:

  • view themselves – as emotionally calm, rational, resilient etc.; and fully trust and rely on themselves
  • view their partners – as unreliable, can’t be depended or trusted
  • view relationships – as draining and not worth the effort or trouble; they’re happier alone

Generally, dismissive avoidants are self-assured, charming, self-controlled and seem to know exactly what they want and what to do to get what they want, but dismissive avoidants are also insensitive and indifferent to other’s feelings and experience, hesitant to give or receive compliments or feedback (positive or negative) and become unresponsive for days, weeks or months when slighted or inconvenienced in some way.

Bur because of their negative view of others, dismissive avoidants generally don’t attach too quickly and take several months to years to get attached and years to move in with a romantic relationship partner. You can even be in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant for months but never get invited inside their space. From day one, they set boundaries on what you can and can’t do with their space and time, and don’t veer very far from “how things should be”. For example a dismissive avoidant says they are not ready/don’t want a relationship, or wants a friends with benefits situation, that’s how it’s going to be. They’re not going to send conflicting and mixed signals or step over their own boundaries and veer away from what they say they want.

No noticeable highs and lows with dismissive avoidants

From the beginning, middle, end of the relationship and even post break-up, the relationship has no noticeable highs and lows mainly due to a dismissive avoidant’s “no drama” attitude, lack of “energy” when it comes to relationship maintenance and distancing most of the time. Because of their low emotional investment in relationships, most dismissive avoidants aren’t as controlling or manipulative because that would require emotional investment and energy. And also because their low emotional investment in relationships, dismissive avoidant relationships often don’t last very long.

One of the reasons for dismissive avoidant relationships not lasting long is while dismissive avoidants on a cognitive level want to love and be loved but on an emotional level, they don’ feel they have much to offer to someone, and because of this emotionally invest little in relationships. The general feeling most people in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant have is “I THINK they love me. I THINK they care about me. But I FEEL like I’m in a relationship all by myself”. The attraction often doesn’t feel mutual and the effort to make the relationship work definitely doesn’t feel mutual even when a dismissive avoidant says they’re all in.

Some dismissive avoidants can adapt in greater or lesser degrees to different relationship dynamics or circumstances provided that things don’t deviate too much from their high level of independence, less demand of their time and space, the relationship being less volatile (less/no stress) and a partner who is consistently reliable and trustworthy.

How to tell if your ex is a fearful avoidant (disorganized avoidant attachment)

A fearful avoidant’s easily identifiable traits are high avoidance and high anxiety, and a negative view of self and a negative view of others (I’m not OK, You’re Not OK).

Fearful avoidants can be some of the sweetest, kindest and nurturing people but fearful avoidants are persistently negative in how they:

  • view themselves – not good enough and don’t trust themselves to know or be capable of doing the right thing.
  • view their partners – can’t be trusted to be there when needed, will disappoint, reject or abandon them
  • view relationships – they all end with rejection and abandonment, it’s only a matter of time.

Because they’re part anxious, fearful avoidants can be controlling and manipulative as away to manage fear or deal with uncertainty. Many fearful avoidants also suffer from social anxiety, depression, struggle with work-related stress, and/or have a substance abuse problem/or addiction. Most fearful avoidants also suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) resulting from emotional, physical or sexual trauma in their past.

While fearful avoidants tend to have a series of unstable, chaotic, volatile and abusive relationships in general, fearful avoidants can be available, responsive, affectionate, caring, and attentive (at first), but if they feel rejected, or feel that the relationship is one-sided, or feel constantly criticized or made to feel “not good enough”, they become distant, cold and unresponsive. Depending on if they lean anxious or avoidant, a fearful avoidant can come on too strong (love bombing), attach very quickly, talk about the “future” within the first few dates and move in together in less than 3 months. If they lean avoidant, things may move a little slower, but fluctuate between getting too close and distancing.

It’s an emotional roller coaster ride with fearful avoidants

Unlike dismissive avoidants who are consistently cold and distant, a relationship with fearful avoidants has many highs and many lows. What you have is what feels like, “Come close… you’re suffocating me”, “I love you… I’m not sure how I feel”, “Love me… I don’t want a relationship” “Leave me alone… wait, why are you abandoning me?” “Do you miss me?…. Don’t t tell me, I don’t want to know” etc.

The everyday impact of their disorganized attachment on a relationship varies from fearful avoidant to fearful avoidant – some exhibiting disorganized attachment behaviours occasionally and others too frequently but the general feeling you have in a relationship with a fearful avoidant is “I KNOW they love me. I KNOW they care about me. But Who am I in a relationship with?” Sometimes they’re loving, caring and seemingly secure, other times they’re anxious, needy and clingy, and can also be cold and distant.

Fearful avoidants also have people-pleasing tendencies which makes many of their behaviours seem confusing and conflicting. One day they say they’re drawing a boundary on no sexual intimacy or don’t want a relationship and the next, they’re grabbing you and kissing you passionately. They say they want space, want a break or want to break up, the very next day they send you texts saying they miss you, are still attracted to you or love you. It’s a complete brain-scratch, and emotional roller coaster ride.

“Who is showing up today/this week?” is the same feeling you have when you’re trying to get back with a fearful avoidant ex, and it’s confusing and confounding because you don’t know what to expect, how to respond/behave or what to do. But it is also confusing to a fearful avoidant who wants to get close but is conflicted, confused, worried, and unsure if it’s what the really want, if they deserve love or closeness, if they can do relationships or even if they want to be in a relationship. They’ve learned that rejection, disappointment, and hurt in relationships are inevitable, and tend to behave in ways that set a self-fulfilling cycle in motion.

Summary: a fearful avoidant ex vs. a dismissive avoidant ex

Without question, there are many other differences between dismissive avoidants and fearful avoidants, and I discuss many of these differences in my articles. The point I wanted to make in this article is if you’re trying to figure out if your ex is a fearful avoidant or dismissive avoidant, don’t just look at their behaviours during and after the break-up because many fearful avoidants lean avoidant after the break-up and tend to act like dismissive avoidants. Look at their behaviours from the start of the relationship, during the relationship, at the break-up and after the break-up.

If your avoidant ex’s behaviours have been consistently distant (organized avoidant attachment), your ex is likely a dismissive avoidant, but if their behaviours have fluctuated between getting close and distancing and are inconsistent, confusing and conflicting (disorganized avoidant attachment), your ex is likely a fearful avoidant.

Keep in mind that an anxious attachment can exaggerate the level of avoidance. Because you crave closeness and want lots of attention, affection and intimacy, an avoidant ex can feel more avoidant and distant than they really are, and sometimes you miss the effort their making to show you they still have feelings for you or even are open to getting back together because you’re focused on the fact that they’re an avoidant and not meeting your need for the kind of closeness you need.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t expect your needs to be met; a relationship should meet your needs to be worth the effort. What I’m saying is, for a relationship to work, it has to meet BOTH people’s needs. Be self-aware and other-aware enough and find ways to get each other’s needs met.

One of the biggest mistakes many people trying to get back with a fearful avoidant ex make is to focus on their need for independence and giving them space. While independence and space is important to a fearful avoidant, what’s even more important to a fearful avoidant is being accepted, feeling that they’re enough, knowing that they can trust you to always have their back and be there for them, and consistency (to organize their disorganized attachment).

Fearful avoidants can sometimes lean dismissive after the break-up

It’s very important to understand the difference between a fearful avoidant ex and a dismissive avoidant ex because it could be the difference between you getting them back and not getting them back. It’s also important to understand that a fearful avoidant ex can sometimes lean dismissive after the break-up. It’s doesn’t mean a fearful avoidant ex became a dismissive avoidant after the break-up, it just means they’re using dismissive avoidant coping strategies to deal with the break-up.

I’ve worked with some clients who thought their ex was a fearful avoidant but during the coaching session they realized that their ex is actually a dismissive avoidant. They projected many feelings on their dismissive avoidant ex that dismissive avoidants typically don’t feel (or even think that way) and were doing everything wrong to get their dismissive avoidant ex back. Realizing that their ex is a dismissive avoidant and not a fearful avoidant allowed them to see what triggers which behaviours and how to sidestep those triggers, how to make their dismissive avoidant ex feel safe, how to create attraction etc.

I’ve also worked with many, many clients who were convinced that their ex was a dismissive avoidant because after the break-up, their ex is leaning very avoidant, but during the coaching session they realized that their ex is not a dismissive avoidant but a fearful avoidant or a fearful avoidant who leans dismissive. Suddenly many “confusing” things that didn’t make sense about their “dismissive avoidant ex” makes so much sense. They start making progress because they approach a fearful avoidant in a way that meets their need for connection and need for space.

All that said, you have to work on the issues in the relationship for the relationship to work. Many people new to attachment styles make the mistake of focusing on attachment styles as the cause of the break-up, and in my experience they never get their ex back. Attachment styles only explains the dynamic of the relationship but is not the only reason for a break-up. Even two securely attached people can break-up which means that it’s not all about your attachment styles.


Do Dismissive Avoidants Come Back After The Break Up?

How Fearful Avoidants Come Back – A Detailed Analysis

Did A Fearful Avoidant Develop Feelings And Pull Away?

12 Signs A Fearful Avoidant Ex Is Chasing You (And Why)

Why Getting Back A Dismissive Avoidant Takes So Long

5 Reasons Fearful Avoidant Exes Take Too Long To Come Back

20 Signs Your Ex A Narcissist Vs. Dismissive Avoidant Or Selfish

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